Leadership columns

Previously published by The News-Press

"Too many of us don't recognize how difficult the hurdles are for those from different backgrounds, often simply because of the way someone looks."

"From poverty to publisher, I am America's promise fulfilled."

"This is a journey of life, not of a single day...      So where are we on our individual journeys?"

 

Resolve to make a difference

Published in The News-Press on 1/27/13

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a good moment to reflect on where we are as a community on that journey toward the dream he dreamed.

 

Dr. King was just 39 when he was assassinated 45 years ago. His short journey was all about purpose, altering the course of our civilization, making a difference through his words and deeds.

 

2013 marks 50 years since Dr. King helped lead the march on Washington that led to landmark civil rights legislation. It’s also 150 years since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, a major step in ending slavery.

 

We’ve just re-elected an African-American as president, probably something even Dr. King would not have imagined. The nation is moving toward becoming one where minorities are the majority.

 

And still, young men of color are dying violently at a record pace in our inner cities. Women still make less than men for the same work. The educational achievement gap grows.

 

“Today’s march is important, to remember history,” said Abdul Haq Muhammed, head of the Quality Life Center, after we strolled down MLK during Monday’s Fort Myers march. “But we have to look ahead and see the problems in front of us. We have to take personal accountability.”

 

As a region and as a nation, we struggle to come together on core problems. Because the issues are complex, as are potential solutions, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and give up, or give in to the path of least resistance. 

 

During the elections in November, too many voices went on attack rather than discourse. The current gun debates are disintegrating into angry, adamant positions.

 

A week ago (1/20), we ran a review of our law enforcement organizations that revealed major gaps in minority and female representation. We got blasted in online comments, accusing us of causing trouble and of advocating hiring of less qualified job applicants.

 

There remains a chasm in this paradise: too many of us don’t recognize how difficult the hurdles are for those from different backgrounds, often simply because of the way someone looks.

 

More importantly, too many of us don’t recognize how all of society benefits when diversity is reflected in all parts of society—particularly among our law enforcement organizations.

 

No one advocates hiring unqualified individuals for any role. But strong recruitment efforts and a commitment to a positive presence in minority communities are critical to help reduce the imbalance.

 

Diversity is more than numbers, said Fort Myers City Councilman Johnny Streets in last Sunday’s story. “It means people from all ethnic groups have a voice in decision-making.”

 

And James Muwakkil, president of the local NAACP, said, “True diversity is about the type of heart that is in us, and that is the heart of inclusion.”

 

At the News-Press, we review our staff annually for specific positions: officials and managers; professionals and technicians, and sales staff. When compared to our market, we are above the overall composition for minorities and women, with one exception: among professionals and technicians, we’re at 42.5% while the market is at 60%. We’ll keep working on this.

 

The most enduring legacy of Dr. King is about equality: all men, and women, are created equal. His dream, he said of his children—but really, of all of us, is that we should be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.

 

We have come a long way. And still, we have far to go.

 

Next month marks 46 years since I came to America as a 7-year-old. You’ve heard me say: from poverty to publisher, I am America’s promise fulfilled. I will always be indebted to this country. It hasn’t been easy. Role models were nearly non-existent; working the system was a foreign concept. I’ve been mocked and overlooked because of the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes.

 

Here in Southwest Florida, I stick out, which is handy to get noticed as the publisher. But in some settings, I can tell I have been dismissed by someone who’s made a conclusion about me after a quick glance.

 

Compared to many others, my challenges were miniscule, just anthills versus the mountains they faced.

 

The most noble have stepped forward to help others behind and around them, to reduce our racial divide, to give hope, to challenge personal responsibility, to make a difference, in words and deeds.

 

That leads me to the second of Dr. King’s key messages: “The ultimate measure of a man,” he said, “is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

 

Dr. King stood out front, from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott to the 1963 march on Washington, which helped trigger legislation to end voter, housing, workplace and other discrimination.

 

How did one man spark such change? What separated him from you and I?

 

His life journey was driven by a singular purpose, and he gave that purpose power through his words and deeds. He sounded the call, courageously. He sought compromise when needed. He engaged others to join and raise their voices. 

 

We can’t hope to match the accomplishments of this man. And yet, should we simply check this day off, then resume our normal course, his words and deeds would be in vain. This is a journey of life, not of a single day.

 

So, where are we on our individual journeys? Can we join together for a higher purpose?

  • Instead of pointing figures, let us extend a helping hand

  • Instead of attacking quickly, let us listen more carefully

  • Instead of seeing the differences, let us seek out our commonalities

  • Instead of staying in our comfortable circles, let us reach out to see how others live and think and dream and love and hope

 

Resolve now, to take accountability as individuals and as a community, and make a difference, in words and deeds.

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© 2015 by Mei-Mei Chan Kirk